As I am just 2 months away from giving birth to our second child, I have been reflecting on the early days with our first. I’ve been thinking about the sleeplessness nights, the tears of joy mixed with overwhelm, the smell of baby spit-up, and especially, the anxiety around setting boundaries with visitors.
I distinctly remember the mantra “Please don’t kiss my baby” playing on repeat in my head anytime someone other than his father came near him, and this was before the COVID-19 pandemic!
Our first was born early December in 2019, and from 2 weeks after his birth until he was 3 months old (right up until the pandemic shutdowns, really), we had a steady stream of friends and family come to meet him. Though it was an entirely different world then, he was born with respiratory issues that had kept him in the NICU for 4 days. It was also cold and flu season, so we were extra cautious.
And rightly so it seemed, as every pediatrician that visited his room in the hospital and who we saw after was adamant that he not come into contact with anyone who may be sick. The challenge was that most of our family live across the country and were traveling on airplanes to see him, which could unknowingly expose them (and us) to germs.
The even bigger challenge was that they are all very affectionate people who love kissing babies.
My husband and I, both people-pleasers, found ourselves torn between not wanting to upset our loved ones and wanting to protect our baby. Of course, our son’s well-being took priority, but it didn’t make the situation any less comfortable. Neither did knowing what joy our little man was bringing to everyone’s lives.
In those early days when babies are so little and vulnerable, it is not unusual for protective instincts to be in full force. It’s understandable that any new person in the environment can feel like a threat or intrusion — even, and especially, our very own parents!
Still, we managed to brave through the tough conversations and, though many family members ignored our requests and snuck in kisses when we weren’t looking, it empowered us for the boundaries we are setting around this upcoming birth, where the stakes feel even higher with COVID-19 variants still circling and not one but now two littles to protect.
Here are 5 things we learned from our first newborn experience that we will be carrying into the birth of our second:
1. Not all visitors are alike
In those 3 months between my son’s birth and the shutdowns, we got to experience visitors of all kinds. This helped me get very clear on the types of visits I want to have this round.
Many come with the beautiful intention to “meet the baby,” but the reality is that the last thing most new parents need is for someone to hold their baby.
Not only can this produce anxiety about germs and contagion, but it doesn’t really help the postpartum parent who is drowning in household chores and additional responsibilities. Sure, it gives their arms a break, but for what? So they can get to those dishes finally?
Ensure that the visitors who come by are those who will be proactive, like those who will take your dog out without needing to be asked, or that they are people who you feel comfortable asking things of.
But don’t expect perfection here. You are tired enough keeping this new being alive. It’s OK if they put the cups in the wrong cupboard.
2. Explicitly say “Please, don’t kiss my baby”
If speaking to people directly about your concerns feels too daunting, you can send a mass email or text to the entire family explaining your policy and that, out of an abundance of caution, you are requesting people don’t kiss your baby on the face.
If your visitors are tested and vaccinated, you can offer feet kisses and masked snuggles, but be explicit about not wanting people’s faces in the vicinity of your little one. Requiring a mask when anyone is holding the baby can be preventive, but don’t be surprised if you catch a grandparent’s mask suddenly “falling down” right when they lean in for a tickle.
3. Require handwashing or sanitizing
With our first, we trained ourselves to always ask people to wash their hands when they handled the baby. It became one long sentence, “Do-you-want-to-hold-the-baby-please-wash-your-hands”. Now I’m tempted to set up a sanitizing station and temperature check at the door.
We also kept hand sanitizer all around the house and in every stroller and diaper bag.
Don’t be shy about asking people to rewash, either. If you notice someone sneeze or have visiting children, you have every right to ask them to wash their hands every single time they want to come near your baby.
4. Ask for what you need
Instead of waiting for people to offer to do something for us, we asked. It feels counterintuitive putting a houseguest to work, but having a new baby is such a unique time. Most visitors are more than happy to become a Starbucks Sherpa in exchange for meeting their newest grandson, granddaughter, nephew, niece, or cousin.
And if they aren’t happy to do so, then refer to suggestion number one above. And remember, you don’t have to let people visit, which brings me to the final suggestion.
5. It’s OK to say no
In retrospect, I wish that I had cut down on the number of visitors who passed through those first few months or set clearer boundaries. It was overwhelming trying to simultaneously learn how to be a new parent and also having to entertain visitors.
There were many moments of people talking my ear off about something happening in their personal lives when I was struggling to breastfeed. Or people (ahem, my father) wanting to show me things on their phone when the baby was in full meltdown mode.
Looking back, I wish I had the strength to say “not right now, thank you” or even no to the initial request of the visit. I will share that this time around, we have felt much more comfortable postponing visits and requesting that people at least wait until the new baby arrives before booking plane tickets.
Finally, if someone offers to bring food, request it be left at the front door (or for them to Venmo you), explaining that the baby’s schedule is unpredictable.
Yes, I wish we had fewer visitors that first time around, but I’m also quite glad we did. We couldn’t have predicted that the entire world would shut down just a few months after he arrived on this planet and that many families would be kept apart for years.
Though it was overwhelming at the time, our firstborn son got to meet everyone that loves him most in this world.
And we got to learn what it means to be a little family amidst the larger clan, establishing our own ways of doing things and finding our voices as parents, even if our own parents still kissed the baby when we weren’t looking.
Sarah Ezrin is a mama, writer, and yoga teacher. Based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, son, and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love to one person at a time. For more information on Sarah please visit her website, www.sarahezrinyoga.com.